London has seven strategic walking routes, namely the Capital Ring, London Loop, Thames Path, Lea Valley Walk, Green Chain, Jubilee Walkway and Jubilee Greenway, ideal for exploring the capital and encouraging healthy exercise. But why stop at seven?
Which is why the London Ramblers have come up with six new walking routes and would like to persuade the next Mayor to make them a reality. Not only do they connect disparate green spaces but they're also intended to link up with the previous routes to create a more joined-up network. All would need proper signage and some also would need additional infrastructure so they can't just be magicked into existence. But if only we knew where all six were we could go out now and shadow them prematurely. Thankfully there's a map.
In west London there's the Forgotten Rivers Walk and Counter's Creek (which is also a forgotten river), and in southeast London the Southern Rivers Link. Then in my neck of the woods there's the Five Boroughs Link, Great Eastern Parks and the Romford Greenway. They're a motley six but they do create new radial links and could well be enticing, if only we could tell precisely where they go. Thankfully there's a better map.
The better map is also available as a 5MB pdf and is something of a cartographical treasure trove. Not only does it include the original seven and proposed six, but also numerous other walking trails like the Celandine Route, Dollis Valley Green Walk, Vanguard Way and Epping Forest Centenary Walk. I had to look up a couple I'd never heard of before. The map confirms that the new routes generally start and finish at an existing route, although not necessarily anywhere near a station. And although you can zoom in a lot to see excellent detail, it's still not clear enough to be able to follow the routes on the ground. So I tried making my own map.
Mine's not a good map. It's nowhere near as accurate as the Ramblers map which is full of intricate wiggles, but that's because they know exactly where the new routes go and I've had to guess. I'm almost convinced I've got the three East London routes very roughly right, but the further in you zoom the less good it gets, and the other three routes include wildly approximate speculation. Trust none of it because I'm not in on the facts, but it might give you a rough idea of what's being proposed.
Forgotten Rivers "A route that reveals rivers obscured by years of development. The River Fleet route connects Hampstead Heath with the Thames Path, while the Silk Stream trail links the Heath to the London LOOP at High Barnet, exploring the greener outskirts of London, past St Pancras Old Church and alongside the Regents Canal and across the Capital Ring through modern redevelopment of Brent Cross."
A walking route that follows the Fleet valley from the Thames to Hampstead Heath is a great idea, even if it repeatedly deviates from the lost river in favour of more appropriate walking territory. It looks like it might then tick off the hidden pergola on the West Heath before, ah, crossing North Cricklewood and Brent Cross (which may be nicer in a few years but is utterly miserable now). This is all to reach the Silk Stream river through Burnt Oak before a perverse break for the remote valleys beyond Mill Hill. Getting public transport home from the end point on the London Loop may prove difficult.
Counter’s Creek "Follows the path of a hidden river along the boundary between Hammersmith & Fulham and Kensington & Chelsea to take in 2 of the ‘Magnificent Seven’ cemeteries at Kensal Green and Brompton and linking up with the Thames Path, Putney and Wimbledon Commons, the Capital Ring and the London Loop."
I've walked Counter's Creek before and it's mostly railway so this may not be the most enticing of strolls. But the route depicted on the map goes a lot further than the river, bolting on a hike through Willesden and Neasden to the north and a much lengthier hike south of the Thames. I can see the merits of crossing Putney Heath and Wimbledon but I am far less convinced by a lengthy extension across Merton to Old Malden just to meet up with the London Loop. This may of course be because I have not yet managed to work out precisely where it goes. But it's still a poor choice of name.
Great Eastern Parks "A west-east trail following the line of the Great Eastern Railway from the eastern edge of City of London to the Lea Valley and beyond, linking up existing parks and incorporating new green space to be created as part of the redevelopment of the old Bishopsgate Goodsyard."
In my experience walking routes with multiple starting points are far less satisfying than those which are linear. One arm of 'Great Eastern Parks' heads from Shoreditch to Mile End and relies heavily on the Bishopsgate Goodsyard being developed, which is years off. The other western arm is essentially just Mile End Park, which at least is green. Victoria Park and the Olympic Park form the central link, which I'm blasé about because it's so local but they're a cracking choice. Where things get strange is out east. One arm follows the Leaway which, as I've repeatedly blogged, has the scuzziest of detours between Cody Dock and Canning Town. If I read the map correctly it's then forced to deviate wildly round Bow Creek because that DLR footbridge I moaned about last week isn't open. And I cannot make head nor tail of the eastern arm which appears to meander across a park-free slice of Newham before terminating nowhere green just short of the Thames. It'd be a pretty miserable end.
Five Boroughs Link "A wander through Westminster, Camden, Islington, Hackney and Waltham Forest, from the Thames to hills and marshes through Low Traffic Neighbourhoods, parks, squares, historic streets, past medieval churches, cathedrals and museums."
This one sounds like they ran out of names, or any underlying rationale for the entire route. The two words in the description which most baffle me are "hills" (really?) and "cathedrals" (plural?). The western end covers Farringdon and Clerkenwell, which would be the teensiest bit of Westminster and Camden. The route then makes a deliberate attempt to shadow the Regent's Canal without ever following it. A central wiggle is needed to tick off Hackney Downs after London Fields. Then it's east to the Lea and a majestic sweep round Walthamstow Marshes, past the reservoirs, and somehow across Walthamstow past the villagey bit. The end is baffling, stopping at a quiet bit of the Epping Forest Centenary Walk which isn't even a waymarked route. The 5BL lacks cohesion.
Romford Greenway "A route that links parks and nature reserves near areas of green deprivation, connecting to the Olympic Park, Capital Ring and London Loop, roughly shadowing the line of CrossRail development in some places and journeying along the London Greenway in others, with attendant opportunities for new infrastructure and greening."
It's not the most appealing of names, especially for a route that doesn't actually go to Romford. Heading east the first target is Wanstead Flats, although there's a lot of road-walking to get there. Next it's lovely Wanstead Park and a fair chunk of the Roding Valley, not all of which is yet open. I think the route then ticks off Barking Park, Goodmayes Rec, Valence Park and the bonanza of open space in the Beam valley beyond Becontree, before following the Ravensbourne through Hornchurch to Harold Wood. These are green treasures I suspect most Londoners have never even heard of, let alone experienced. Of the six routes it's the walk I'd be most satisfied to complete.
Southern Rivers "Crossing Lambeth, Southwark, Lewisham, Greenwich, Bexley, this route links the Thames with the River Quaggy and the River Shuttle – crossing the Ravensbourne by way of the old Surrey Canal."
OK, here's what I reckon. Vauxhall Bridge, Kennington Park, Burgess Park... strong start. Surrey Canal Linear Park, excellent. Nunhead and Ladywell, maybe via the cemeteries. Prolonged pavement slog from Catford to Eltham. Several miles of the River Shuttle (whose Riverway path has long deserved a promotion). Nicely augments the Green Chain without repeating stuff. Eastern end possibly a bit remote. Useful addition to the strategic walk portfolio.
Again let me say that I don't really know what I'm talking about as the Ramblers' maps are vague and mine are worse, but it sounds like there's much here to look forward to. Just remember that you can already go out walking wherever you like, whenever you like, you don't need to wait for someone to tell you where to do it.